Becoming an effective, if not great, leader takes focus, a well thought-out plan, and determination. It requires a strong foundation of self-knowledge—e.g., personal values, principles, vision, and goals—and a clear understanding of one's strengths and weaknesses in addition to a solid understanding of one's emotional intelligence.
As important as the leader's foundation is, creating or strengthening it isn't that difficult. It starts with asking a few critical questions, engaging in introspection, and through consistent feedback. When facilitating or coaching leaders wishing to enhance their skills, I always start by asking them to take several days to answer: Who am I?, Who are you?, and Who are we? Answers to these basic yet powerful questions will go a long way to solidify a leader's foundation.
The importance of answering the first question, "Who Am I?", cannot be overstated. Without a clear understanding of who the leader is, future leadership effectiveness is often short-lived and superficial; the ability to accomplish great goals will be severely weakened. Do you know your passions? Your vision, values, and beliefs? Your level of compassion for the organization and mission? How much are you willing to sacrifice for the organization? Answering these questions helps leaders understand their future role and the potential difference they can make.
The recent edition of Leader to Leader magazine (Spring 2011) reinforces the importance of self-discovery and introspection in developing our effectiveness as leaders. Included are two articles: one written by Richard Daft, the other by Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner that addresses the importance of leader authenticity. Both articles focus on the importance of knowing yourself and advocate for one of Jim and Barry's key tenets of leadership development: one's leadership journey starts with an inner journey.
The second question aspiring leaders must ask is, "Who are you?". Once leaders have a solid understanding of who they are and what they plan to contribute in their leadership role, they must turn to understanding those they are leading. The most effective leaders know their people intimately, not superficially. They remember names—including those of family members. They learn what their colleagues' goals and desires are. They understand everyone's roles, and they work hard to ensure everyone knows the importance of their contribution to the organization. While it is often not advised to become friends with those we lead, a leader must always strive to be friendly with co-workers, direct reports, and all others with whom they work. Being "friendly" means getting to know people and working to support the dreams and aspirations of others.
The third and all-important question is, "Who are we?" Once we know who we are and who our colleagues are, as effective leaders we must begin the process of creating a team capable of meeting and/or exceeding job requirements. Leaders must see where everyone fits to form a highly functioning team that together accomplishes far more than what anyone could do individually. Creating such a team requires a leader who clearly articulates a vision, helps everyone understand their role, demonstrates what it will take to do the job well, ensures that all team members know how they will be held accountable, and determines how the team will be recognized and rewarded when the mission is accomplished. Team members who know their work matters and that their leader appreciates their contributions will work harder and longer than someone who thinks their contributions are not appreciated or valued. Having a clear understanding of and the ability to use The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership® (Model The Way, Inspire a Shared Vision, Challenge The Process, Enable Others to Act, Encourage The Heart) is critical to defining "Who We Are."
Jody R. Rogers, Ph.D., FACHE is a Certified Master of The Leadership Challenge® and Program Manager for the Army Medical Department Executive Skills Program. A Board Certified Healthcare Executive and Fellow in the American College of Healthcare Executives (ACHE), he and can be reached at Jrogers5@satx.rr.com.